What You Need to Know About Social Security Numbers

Filed in J-1 Regulation Explainers by on November 7, 2014 0 Comments


If you are a J-1 who will be paid a stipend or otherwise compensated financially by the U.S. host organization during the time you are in the U.S. as an intern or trainee, you will most likely need to apply for a Social Security Number and Social Security Card.

The Social Security Number, which is recorded on the corresponding Social Security Card, is your Tax Identification Number. It is also one of the main forms of identification for people living in the U.S.

Your Social Security Number/Card (SSN) can be used for a variety of purposes, but one of the most important things you will use it for is to check your employment eligibility status through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) E-Verify system. Checking your employment eligibility status is required when your host organization’s human resources department enrolls you in their payroll system (more info on that process here). The Social Security Number/Card may also be needed if you plan to open a bank account, apply for a U.S. driver’s license, and sometimes when you rent an apartment or make a large purchase, like buying a car.

Do I Need a Social Security Number?

As mentioned above, if you will be paid by the U.S. host organization, you will likely need a SSN because you need to pay taxes on all U.S. income you earn while you are a J-1 Trainee or Intern (for more info on Taxes, check our website FAQ page on Tax Assistance for J-1 Participants). This publication from the Social Security Administration (SSA.gov) discusses Social Security Numbers for Noncitizens and provides contact information in case you have specific questions.

When Should I Apply for My Social Security Number/Card?

If you need a Social Security Number/Card, is very important that you understand when and how to apply for the number. Before applying for the Social Security Number/Card, you must make sure that you have completed your “Post Arrival Follow Up Information” by logging in to your online case file. You must log in to the website and complete the task labeled “Post Arrival Follow Up Information,” which will ask for your contact info and for you to scan and upload some of your immigration documents.

After you complete the “Post Arrival Follow Up Information,” you will receive an email confirmation from us stating that your visa has been activated in SEVIS. Once your visa has been activated, you should wait an additional three business days before applying for the SSN. Waiting three days will allow the government databases to update with your immigration information. If you attempt to apply for the SSN before you have been active in SEVIS for at least three days, your application will likely be rejected, or you will be placed into a lengthy verification queue (meaning, you will have to wait a really long time to get your number). If you have questions about whether or not your J-1 visa status is active in SEVIS, you should contact your visa sponsor at J1Program@immcouncil.org or 1-202-507-7500 to verify before you visit the Social Security Office.

How Do I Apply For My Social Security Number/Card?

The Social Security Administration provides great instructions on their website detailing how to apply for the SSN. Basically, you need to complete and print the Social Security Application form, and gather your DS-2019 form, passport with J-1 visa (non-Canadians), DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility, and the Active Status Letter we sent you with your original DS-2019 (The letter begins with, “This letter is meant to confirm that…”). Then, take all of those documents to the local Social Security Office and apply in person for the SSN.

Where Do I Go To Apply For My Social Security Number/Card?

You must visit a local Social Security Office in person in order to apply for the SSN. Again, please make sure that your visa is active in SEVIS before visiting the Social Security Office to apply in person. You can find the nearest Social Security Office using the Social Security Office Locator.

What If I Applied For My Social Security Number/Card Before I Was Activated In SEVIS?

If you missed all of our warnings and applied for your Social Security Number/Card before your visa status is activated, then you will have to visit the Social Security Office again to cancel the original application and reapply for the SSN.

In order to activate your visa status, you must log in and complete your “Post-Arrival Follow Up Information.” (Note: You must first complete the “Arrival and Program Dates” form in order to access the “Post-Arrival Follow Up Information” form). If you have doubts, you should contact your visa sponsor to make sure that your visa is active. Once you have been active in SEVIS for three days, then visit the Social Security Office and ask to cancel your initial application for the SSN. Once the initial application is canceled, you will be able to begin your application again and hopefully receive the SSN within the normal processing time.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Social Security Number/Card?

We cannot comment on exactly how long each Social Security Office’s processing times are, but on average our J-1 Trainee and Intern participants report that it takes an average of 7-10 days to obtain the Social Security Number. If the process takes much longer, there is a chance you submitted the application before your visa status was activated in SEVIS. Please see the question above if you think that is what happened.

I Received An Email Stating That My Visa Status Was Active In SEVIS, But When I Went to the Social Security Office They Told Me to Contact My Sponsor. What Should I Do Now?

If you believe your visa status is active in SEVIS, but the Social Security Office cannot access your information, call your visa sponsor immediately at 1-202-507-7500 or email us at J1Program@immcouncil.org. We will make sure to activate your visa status as soon as possible, so that you can apply for the SSN within a reasonable timeframe.

What Type Of Social Security Number/Card Should I Apply For?

There are three types of Social Security Cards. You should receive type number 2 on the list, which states, “VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION” which is for “people lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a temporary basis who have DHS authorization to work.” Normally, this is determined at the Social Security Office, but if you believe you receive the incorrect type of Social Security Card, then contact your visa sponsor and visit the Social Security Office to have the error corrected.

Human Resources at My Host Organization is Telling Me I Need to Submit Payroll Or Tax Forms, But I Am Still Waiting for My Social Security Number/Card. Help!

Tell your Human Resources contact to read point number 3 on this website, titled, “What if the worker doesn’t have a Social Security number when wage reports (Forms W-2) are due to Social Security?” They can file your W-2 wage reports, and then correct the information at a later date when you receive the SSN.

I Have the Social Security Number/Card and I Need To Enroll in Payroll/Benefits at My Host Organization, But My Information Cannot Be Found in E-Verify. What Do I Do Now?

Sometimes E-Verify has problems locating J-1 Trainees and Interns, and they receive what is referred to as a “false negative” when attempting to verify their eligibility for employment. We do not know exactly why this happens. If you do receive a false negative, it is important that you maintain several documents in your personnel file at the host organization in order to demonstrate your eligibility for employment:

  • A photocopy of your DS-2019 form
  • A copy of your I-94 status
  • A copy of your J-1 visa
  • A copy of your training plan
  • A copy of the “Active Status” letter from the American Immigration Council.  This is the letter sent with your DS-2019 form that begins, “To whom it may concern.”

If there are any questions, please ask your Human Resources department to contact your visa sponsor at 1-202-507-7500 or email us at J1Program@immcouncil.org.

I Already Obtained A Social Security Number on a Past Visit To The U.S. – Do I Need a New Social Security Number?

No. You have one SSN and you keep it for life. You do, however, need to make sure your visa status is active in SEVIS before you attempt to use the SSN for the first time as a J-1 Trainee or Intern.

Protect Your Identity While You Are in the U.S.

Keep your Social Security Number/Card safe! The SSN is connected with your tax information, payroll, bank account, driver’s license, and other sensitive personal information. Identity theft is a huge problem, and criminals often steal Social Security Numbers in order to steal from the people who possess those numbers, or use their identities to engage in criminal activity. The American Immigration Council does not need to know your Social Security Number for any reason, and neither do most people. Protecting your personal information is your responsibility while you are in the U.S.